2012 Projects – Making Things

Happy New Year, folks.  Hope you had a lovely break.

2011 was an excellent year here at Smithery.  Starting, for one.  Working on some brilliant projects with lovely people, for another.  And finding time and headspace to work on things that I wouldn’t have had in a previous life.

Anyway, I though the first posts of the new year should be about projects for the coming few months… firstly, a post about making things, and then next up a post about things I’m thinking about.

So, making things; one new project, and two existing.


1. Twine

Let’s start here, because I received a nice card over the holidays…

In March I’ll receive my Twine from Supermechanical.

There’s no better way to describe Twine than in their own words:

Listen to your world, talk to the Internet

Want to hook up things to the Web without a nerd degree? Maybe you want to get a tweet when your laundry’s done, or get an email when the basement floods while you’re on vacation.

Twine is the simplest possible way to get the objects in your life texting, tweeting or emailing. Instead of worrying about wiring or networking code, you can focus on your idea.

There are two inbuilt sensors for movement and temperature, and you can add more sensors for other things too.  Then you control it with Spool, a very easy, intuitive visual programming platform (not unlike Minibloq for Arduino I talked about before Christmas).

I think it’s a brilliant idea, and I’m clearly not the only one – they blew their Kickstarter funding goal out of the water this week when funding closed; they were after $35,000, and they’ve raised $556,541.  Not shabby.

Anyway, I want to play around with that, and given its promised robustness, I might try and see if it’s childproof and make something for James.

I might need to ask for an extra-toughened reinforced one…

But it might be something to combine with Rolobox & Makedo, especially given the accelerometer inside Twine.


Why Bloody Bother (WBB) – the internet of things movement continues apace, but I suspect that it will be projects like Twine that kick it into something stratospheric; by lowering the access point of the technology to more people, more ideas and energy will flow into the space.

Wooly Doable Goal (WDG) – make enough time to make Twine do something interesting for James, and share it for other parents to have a go too.


2. Arduino stomp-box

So I have a fragile working prototype of a thing

It was designed to be a productivity setter; turn the dial, set the level, press the button and tweet what ‘productivity’ you were working at for the next hour.  More details here.

It was developed in the Arduino commune Matt Weston instigated and provided the space for during November & December.

He’s continuing it through to Easter (and getting a nice big table in to accommodate more people) if you’re around brighton and fancy it.  More details here.

I shall be making as much time as I can to go down, but I also want to get a most robust shell around the thing.

I was partially inspired by POPA

Popa is the big red button that turns your iPhone 4 into a camera.

It really changes the way you hold and think of your iPhone, which I thought was remarkable.  And it integrates with things like Instagram, Dropbox and many, many more apps (though not Hipstamatic as yet, which would be excellent for me).  You should probably buy one, if you haven’t already.  That’s what your Christmas Money is for.

But the inspiration really took hold when creator Brendan Dawes told the story of how they developed it at Playful, it inspired me to think that getting a product off the ground might be closer than I had imagined (though still lots of bloody hard work and perseverance).

The other inspiration, from a deep and distant memory, is probably Poke’s BakerTweet.

BakerTweet from POKE on Vimeo.

2009 that was.  Doesn’t time fly?

Anyway, I think the thing is tilting towards being a stomp-box for the internet – something like a guitar effects pedal thing that modifies your signal into the world.

It might set productivity, change your avatars on various sites, autotweet a series of swearwords depending on how angry you are… it could do lots of things.

But I don’t really want to define exactly what it does – I’d rather take the Minibloq/Spool approach of ‘here’s a thing, now you decide exactly what it does’.

A mix of hardware and software that become like plasticineware.  Or plastiware.

There’s probably a better term already for this; if you know what it is, let me know.

WBB – A lot of the work (client & personal) I seem to be doing is surfing the crack in the universe between physical and digital, but rather than just focussing on turning digital things into physical stuff, I want to explore different sorts of interfaces that lets people control digital things with more natural, physical gestures.

The controller in the third episode of Black Mirror is a great example.  Mike’s written a great post on the design fiction of that.

WDG – Get a version working in a self contained guitar-pedal-esqe box, possibly even make more than one, and see who’s interested in playing.



3. Artefact Cards 

One of the first client projects I did under the Smithery guise used the earliest iteration of the Artefact Cards to play around with a group of people to create lots of ideas quickly, order them, refresh and finesse them.

I used blank playing cards because I wanted people to consider the ideas they committed to the cards more; post-it notes are transitory, disposable rubbish, and are too often treated as such.

It made me realise how individuals and people can use these cards to create, capture, structure and move ideas around more readily, whether working together or on their own.

So I recruited a first wave of testers, mocked up some prototypes and sent them out…


These testers started using them around the beginning of November, and since then I’ve caught up with the majority of them to download their experiences.

There’s loads of interesting aspects around how people approach them… Will Corke likened them to the way Nabokov wrote his books on index cards, which led me to this excellent post on the nonlinearity of thinking that approach allows:

Nabokov’s writing method typically included composing on index cards. Quirkily, he would shuffle these cards daily, allowing him to see different paths to take by looking at the story unfolding in different ways.

This non-linearity in structure was also matched by a non-linearity in focus: he often wrote the middle of the story last.

But an important part was the drawing too – making yourself draw things into your ideas changes them, makes them take a different path than searching to find the right words.

Ben Maxwell said it was like the cards ‘gave doodles permission to exist’.  And Ben doodled well too; this is one of his…


The plan moving forward is this; finish first wave testing interviews, write it up, recruit a second wave of folk with a more honed “how to…” guide, and then finish them as a complete product to sell.

Although I actually wonder if it’s a few different things; a technique workshop around using the cards, a simple version of the product to sell, and a more regular subscription version of oblique slants on the cards (a little like Field Notes, which both Ben & Toby mentioned separately).

And once that’s done, I can get round to the mobile app half of the equation… more on that another day.

If you like the sound of the cards, and want to be kept abreast of developments, sign up to the Artefact Cards mailing list here.

WBB – I’ve found it such a refreshing way to change how I think and work up ideas that I believe there’s value in the approach for other people.  And I’m really enjoying the journey in working out how best to bring it to life in the right way.

WDG – turn the Artefact Cards into a good product rather than just an interesting idea.


So, that’s the making focus for the first bit of the year.  I will write up the thinking focus in a bit.  Though maybe next week.

In the meantime, if you do see or know of anything interestingly tangential to any of these three in any way,  please do send it my way.

Here’s to a great 2012, folks.



15 responses to “2012 Projects – Making Things”

  1. John – glorious stuff – inspirational and exciting. Love the Popa thing – that’s a must have surely 🙂 Wishing you the very best for 2012 – looking forward to seeing you soon.



    1. john v willshire avatar
      john v willshire

      Thanks Mark – Happy New year to you too 🙂

  2. Hey Willsh have you come across Scratch? – eduational programming language/community set up by MIT

    I’ve seen some great physical interfaces created for it using cameras and Lego Mindstorm, but Twine could offer a simplified alternative to explore

    1. john v willshire avatar
      john v willshire

      Ah, heard of but never dived into – nice one, thanks Graeme.

      And Happy New Year 🙂

  3. I like this a lot, Mr Willshire. Well done you.

    1. john v willshire avatar
      john v willshire

      Well thank you, squire, thank you. Happy New Year. Again, I think. 🙂

  4. Good post to see in the New Year John. It chimes in nicely with some innovation work I’ve been conducting over the past few days into fetishising the physical. In a nutshell, it could be argued that there is growing backlash against the all pervasiveness of digital and the need to get back to the sense of the tangible (in terms of output). You’ve highlighted some great examples.

    1. john v willshire avatar
      john v willshire

      Thanks Tom – would love to see that, or talk about it, if possible. Maybe over coffee one day?

      1. Great idea John, lets lock down a time and place in the near future over the weekend. I’ll send you a direct tweet.

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